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Public Statements

Congressional Black Caucus

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

Mr. CLEAVER. Madam Speaker, let me first of all express appreciation to Congresswoman Donna Christensen, Dr. Donna Christensen, for how she has put forth boundless energy making sure that we keep this issue of joblessness in front of us.

Let me first of all say that I did two interviews during the votes today, one with ABC News. And as I stood before the cameras they showed me two comments, one from a gentleman who said that he was so disgusted with Congress because nothing is being done and he believed that we needed to start trying to deal with the problems. He thought that we should not be raising the taxes on what he called ``ordinary'' people or low-income working people.

The other interview I did was on Fox and was an interview where I was interviewed about the joblessness among African Americans. I think both of those intersect. And the reason for this is, I said to people that as a Democrat I was embarrassed that during the last session of Congress we failed to listen to the American public. The public said they were interested in jobs.

I would go home to my district in Kansas City, Missouri, and people would simply talk about the need for jobs. I would come back to Washington, and the only thing we talked about was health care. And health care was important, I supported it--it was not the bill that I wanted, but I supported it anyway. And many of us supported it because of the way in which you, Dr. Christensen, as a physician, presented us with how valuable it would be. But the point is we never, ever dealt with jobs. We are now into our 194th day into this Congress, and I am sorry and I am embarrassed that we have not created one single job.

African American unemployment is at 16.2. If you use what the Labor Department uses to factor real unemployment--it's called U-6--the U-6 unemployment for African Americans is at 30 percent. This is higher than the Depression. The 1929 fall of Wall Street created unemployment that devastated not only this country, but the entire world.

I am saying here on the floor--in this sacred well--that African American unemployment is at a crisis level. Why would that be important to somebody who's not African American or who lives in a community where there are no African Americans? Well, in the first place, we ought to be concerned about all Americans, period. And the day that I am not concerned with all Americans, I want that to be my last day in this body. I would say at this point that the congressional district from which I come is only 18 percent African American, but the people of good will in my district understand that all Americans should have equal access to jobs.

There are a plethora of reasons for the African American unemployment being so high--I won't get into all of them--but I want to tell you that if we had unemployment among any group in America, whether they were news anchors, whether they were comedians, no matter what the group, I think that this country would be in a crisis mode. We would have commissions; we would have the top economists and labor experts becoming involved, trying to figure out how can we erase or reduce the level of unemployment among this particular group. Now unemployment is at 9.2 percent with all Americans. That is unacceptable in the most powerful, industrialized, technologically advanced Nation on this planet; 9.2 is unacceptable, 16.2 is sinful, it is sinful in this country. I believe that we have got to figure out ways in which we can get something done.

One of the gentlemen said during the pre-interview with me that he believed, to quote him exactly, that ``Congress is broke.'' It pains me, I've got to tell you, that I think he is right. I think it is a broken body, but the public has participated. The public is culpable as well, and that is this, we have people who run thermonuclear campaigns. And instead of public people saying anybody who would run a nasty campaign is going to be nasty when they get in office, so I'm not going to vote for him or her, but that's not what the public says. They cheer, they rah-rah this negativity on.

And the people who run the nasty campaigns on both sides end up in this body, and they just simply escalate it with more publicity. And until the United States citizenry comes to the conclusion that they are sick and tired of what's going on and begin to punish people for being nasty, it's going to get worse and worse and worse.

I would love to be able to some day close my eyes, fall asleep among the elders, and believe before I go that the United States of America will present to my children--and their children and even their progeny--a state that has opened up opportunities to everyone and a state where the government works. We cannot get anything done because anybody who raises their head and presents something, if they belong to the wrong party, they're not going to get recognized and nothing is going to get done. Republicans do it; Democrats do it. It's wrong no matter who does it.

What we are facing right now is a situation that is grave, and I don't even think the Republican nor Democratic Parties in this body understand that we can't simply go as we are going. We're talking about the debt ceiling. It has to be raised. It is absolutely ridiculous to say that we shouldn't raise it. I sit in my apartment across the street from the Capitol at night looking at television and listening to people who know better say that it's all right, it's no problem, we can let the debt ceiling remain under the $14.3 trillion and nothing cataclysmic will happen. And they know better. I would feel a lot better if people would say something and really meant it because they didn't know better. But they do know better, but many in the public don't, and so they think there's no big deal.

Look, if we don't raise the debt ceiling, we can pay 60 percent of our debts, but we've got to make some concrete choices on who gets that 60 percent. And no matter who gets it, it will create a cataclysm for the United States and perhaps the entire world. Italy, Spain, Greece and Ireland are already in trouble in Europe. And they don't have central banks like we have. We have the Federal Reserve, and so to some degree we can go out and have an auction of Treasury notes and bring in revenue; they don't. But if we end up having a very, very serious economic problem in this country, it's going to trigger a world-wide recession. Nobody wins. Nobody comes out on top if this happens. And the unemployment numbers, 9.2, they are going to rise.

I don't want people looking at this tonight or any of my colleagues believing that those are my numbers or that I am the only one who believes there is going to be trouble. Ben Bernanke, reappointed by George Bush, says that if we make deep cuts in the U.S. budget, it is going to create a problem because right know the only money that is going into the U.S. economy, into the GDP, into the economic activity is coming from the United States Federal Government.

And if you begin to cut back drastically, it cannot help but raise the unemployment numbers. And if we fool around and fail to raise the debt ceiling or just walk to the cliff, walk to the edge, walk to the precipice, the bond rating agencies, who have already warned us--and these are not Democratic bond rating agencies, these are not Congressional Black Caucus bond rating agencies, these are not Republican bond rating agencies, they are the bond rating agencies of the United States of America--and they tell us when we're in trouble and they tell us when we're in good stead. And they have said to us, if you walk to the precipice, we are going to end up getting in trouble because they're going to downgrade our bond rating. What does that mean?

Well, it means that the interest rates are going to rise. China is our number one creditor, external. Most people think that we owe more money to foreign governments than we owe anyplace else, which is not true. The majority of the debt is held by citizens of the United States. China is number one outside the country, and then Japan. Well, China has no other place to make investments, so that's to our advantage. Japan has nowhere else to make investments. That's to our advantage. But they are going to say to us, Look, you guys are not paying your bills, and if you're not going to pay your bills, it is a greater risk to us.

And what happens when there's a greater risk? We're going to raise your interest rates. So if the interest rates are raised on the United States, they're going to be raised in all of the banks and anyplace else where we seek credit. That is going to create a problem.

I don't understand how and why we have allowed all of this false information to go out about how this will not matter and nothing is going to happen. It has nothing to do with the facts. It has to do with the partisanship. It has to do with partisanship. And in this town, in this place, we allow ideology to trump everything. Everything falls second to ideology.

I don't understand how anybody could come to this place and say, I come here so that I won't have to compromise. You have to compromise. There's not a person in the world who has been married for any length of time who doesn't understand the word ``compromise.'' If they don't understand word ``compromise,'' then they understand the word ``divorce.''

And so what we've got to understand here is that we're going to divorce this Nation--one side red, one side blue, one side left, one side right--and we can't get anything accomplished as a consolidated Nation.

Let me just say a couple of other things, and I'm through, Madam Speaker, and, that is, if I can go back to the jobs issue just for a moment. We know that only 18,000 jobs were created in the United States last month. We need probably 233,000 jobs each month to be created in the United States. Why? Because that's about the number of new employees or people seeking work who come into the work market, so we've got to constantly create jobs.

People who were laid off work 3 or 4 years and haven't found work, if the economy broke tomorrow and we were allowed to begin to see hiring in the major corporations, the 10 employees who were laid off 3 or 4 years ago would now be three or four employees called back to work. Why? Because technology is constantly growing and advancing, and where we needed 10 line workers 3 or 4 years ago, we only need two or three workers today, which means that we've got to educate the workforce.

What does that mean to the country? Well, if we don't educate the workforce in the United States, it means that the imbalance of trade with other countries is going to rise, because other nations are going to be able to provide what we can't provide and they're going to do it at a lower cost. We've got to have a workforce that can compete with China and India and Japan and Indonesia and Vietnam, because if we don't, American corporations are going to continue to try to do business abroad.

We cannot ignore the fact that a lot of those jobs, positions, were held by African Americans, and they need to be retrained. We need to retool the U.S. workforce. Let me tell you why we have some numbers that are disproportionate with African Americans, because I don't want people doing what has been done in this country for the last 400 years. Some people assume, well, you know, the African American numbers are high because African Americans don't want to work. We've heard all of that unfortunately over the years. The only reason we know what the numbers are is because those are the individuals who are out seeking work, who have gone to the unemployment agencies in their States, and that's how we know that the unemployment numbers are what they are.

But keep in mind, and nobody probably thinks about this. Every time you read about a State laying off workers, a municipality laying off firefighters or police officers, or if you find any government agency laying off, it means that the number of African Americans who are unemployed will rise, and the reason for that is that African Americans disproportionately seek work in the government. We've done it historically because it was always believed that if you could work for the government, the chances are less likely for you to be discriminated against, so we have a large number of African Americans who work for the government.

You see all of these State layoffs all over the country, and I want people to realize when you see those numbers, please understand that a disproportionate number of them are African American.

Now, while we are here fiddling instead of trying to deal with some real problems in this country, there are people with real problems. People who don't have a job,

they have a problem. I'm willing to compromise. I've talked about others who won't. I will. I'm willing to compromise. I've already compromised.

My father turned 89 years old last Friday. Thank God. Glory. Hallelujah. I'm happy. He's in great condition, probably better physical condition than me--doctor, I'm going to do better--and my uncle, who is 87. I'm thrilled and fortunate and blessed that they have this kind of longevity in the Cleaver line. But I'm not ever, ever going to compromise on one aspect, and that is Social Security.

My father has worked since he was a kid. His brother has worked since he was a kid. For me to ever support reducing the benefits for somebody who paid into Social Security--this is not some kind of giveaway program. Everybody in this country who paid the payroll tax paid into Social Security, and in their sunset years, they deserve the opportunity to live as decently and in as healthy an environment as possible. And so I'm not going to compromise on Social Security, at least on the benefits.

I will compromise if we raise the age at which people can qualify, 10 years down the road. I will compromise on lifting the cap on $106,000. Right now if you earn above $106,000, you will pay Social Security taxes only on the amount under $106,000. So you can make 6 gajillion dollars and never pay Social Security taxes on but about $105,000, which I think is actually silly.

Those of us who have been blessed to earn more than $106,000 should understand how fortunate we are, and so we should pay above the cap. It's wrong. It's not right for people who earn a meager salary to have to struggle when there are people making $106,000 and not even paying Social Security tax.

I am representing Missouri's Fifth Congressional District, and I want to focus some attention before I close, Madam Speaker, on a tragedy occurring in Missouri and the entire Midwest region, for that matter. Currently, farmland and homes are underwater along the Missouri River, from Montana to my home State of Missouri. Record snowmelt runoff this spring along with unexpected record rainfall in the upper river basin filled up the reservoirs in eastern Montana and the Dakotas and word is the Army Corps of Engineers plans to release large amounts of water from the reservoirs to keep them from overflowing. That excess water has flowed downstream, creating a path of destruction in its wake.

Levees have been breached in Iowa, Nebraska and in my home State in northwest Missouri, causing flooding of farmland, road closures including Interstate 29, and evacuations. More than 500,000 acres of land have been flooded in the seven States along the river. The high waters have moved eastward and further downstream in Missouri, causing high water and flooding in Ray, Saline and Carroll Counties.

I have gone to those areas. I have seen the flooding. I have looked at the fields that farmers would normally have corn growing in underwater. If we are here in Washington twiddling our thumbs, and the farmers in Missouri and other States, for that matter, are struggling just to make it--and with rivers still running above flood stage and soil saturated, forecasters have predicted this summer flooding season could rival the worst in U.S. history. That means what was called the ``Great Flood of 1993'' during my term as mayor, cost about $25 billion in damage--this would exceed $25 billion.

The excessive high temperatures sweeping across the Nation this week cannot erase concerns about river flooding. These high river levels are not going away any time soon, and neither is the risk of flooding. There will be sustained high water along the Missouri River through August as the reservoirs continue releasing high volumes of water. Due to this high water and saturated soil, just a small amount of rain could trigger more flooding in areas that have already seen record flooding in 2011.

Obviously, we cannot plan for every natural disaster. However, we have the responsibility to take preventive measures whenever possible. The original purpose of these upper Missouri basin dams was flood protection. Over the years other priorities may have slipped in. However, I believe now is the time to reevaluate the Corps of Engineers management plans and once again place the safety and livelihood of people who live and work along the river first.

Reservoir levels need to be lowered between October and April so fewer releases are needed during the spring rain season. A goal of targeted releases should be that they not exceed any given flood stage downstream. And, if releases above flood stage levels are required, then a maximum flow of no more than 5 feet over given flood stages for no longer than 15 consecutive days could be set, followed by 5 consecutive days below given flood states. This cycle could be repeated as necessary and would reduce downstream damages. This or other contingency planning is needed to prevent flooding events such as this year's from happening again.

Madam Speaker, we are here dealing with political--I think ``shenanigans'' is a word that would fit. People out in the country, the real people, are struggling. Whether it is from flooding or unemployment, they are struggling, and the Congress of the United States needs to act.

You know, one of the reasons we can't get anything done with jobs, as I mentioned earlier, or the flooding problem, is this bickering based on political affiliation. Here is one thing I learned. I am always watching Animal Channel and the Discovery Channel. My family always makes fun of me. But I learned something a few years ago watching the Discovery Channel. Bees cannot sting and make honey at the same time. They either have to become stingers or honey makers. What has happened here is we have become stingers, and, therefore, we are not making any honey or laws to help the American public.

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